This was an especially difficult holiday season for the Cino family.

Tragedy struck on Thanksgiving Day, when the patriarch of the family, Tony Cino, attempted to repair the furnace at his Robbinsville home. A devastating fire broke out, with the flames engulfing Tony.

The Cino family, shown here in an undated family photo, have suffered the loss of their home due to a fire that also caused one family member to suffer serious burns across his body.

Tony was badly injured, and only saved after his son Giovanni stepped in to pull his father to safety.

Giovanni didn’t think twice about rushing in, but the moments afterward were traumatic.

“My little brother, Giovanni, is who found my dad with his clothes on fire, helped tear them off, and call 911 so he was rather shaken up and not speaking much,” Tony’s son Giuseppe said.

Giuseppe and his older brother Michael, who live in North Carolina, came as quickly as they could after hearing the news. The brothers got in the car and drove all through the night and were able to arrive at the hospital around 8 a.m. the next day. The trip, of course, was tense.

“We got the news with so much uncertainty of how badly he had been burned,” Giuseppe said. “It was a very somber car ride.”

The brothers walked into the hospital room and saw their father completely covered in bandages with only his face exposed. They would soon learn that he had suffered from second- and third-degree burns that would require a number of surgeries before the healing process could begin.

“We visited the home after,” Giuseppe said. “It was difficult to see it torn apart from firefighters.”

Everything in the house was lost—nothing could be salvaged due to smoke damage. It was a somber scene, Giuseppe said, and it was a lot to take it.

“Seeing family photos on the wall amidst the destruction was very emotional, especially with how quiet it was,” he said.

On top of everything, the fire also occurred on the cusp of a new venture for Tony, as him and his partner Benny Cole had initially planned to open up Mamma Giacomina’s, a new restaurant in the old Square Deli location at 2611 Whitehorse Hamilton Square Road in Hamilton, the following week, on Tuesday, Dec. 3.

To Tony, working in the restaurant industry is more than an occupation or role—it’s a true passion.

Mamma Giacomina’s opened in Hamilton in early December 2019. (Photo by Suzette J. Lucas.)

“My grandmother says my dad has been cooking since he could walk,” Giuseppe said. “He is a natural chef and loves sharing that talent, so he naturally wanted to open a restaurant.”

Tony and Cole have spent the last half-year getting the restaurant ready to open. It was a long process with a lot of moving parts, Giuseppe said.

“They have been working on it for six months building a kitchen, replacing the floors, painting everything possible, remodeling the bathroom, creating countertops, getting the legal paperwork and food serving inspections,” Giuseppe said.

Mamma Giacomina’s has since opened and is serving Italian-style meals and dishes. Its deli, bistro and catering services are available for Hamilton residents and the surrounding community to enjoy with family, friends and for work events. The restaurant offers lunch, dinner, sandwiches, salads, desserts and daily specials.

Watching the restaurant operate has been a little bit bittersweet for Tony, Giuseppe said.

“He is happy that the restaurant opened, but there is not one minute that goes by that he is not thinking about it,” he said. “In the hospital, he sometimes dozes off and wakes up having dreamt about prepping peppers and onions.

A few weeks after the fire, though, things have started to settle down for the Cino family.

“My family is doing well now that everything has stabilized,” Giuseppe said. “We visit my dad as much as possible, and our spirits are high for his recovery, but we do still worry about how he will feel after his release from the hospital.”

The Cino family is looking forward to Tony’s release in the next few months. It is expected that he will need some mobility assistance, and the family is looking into accommodations while also planning a trip for Tony to North Carolina to see his three granddaughters.

Tony is also looking forward to getting to his restaurant, and that has been encouraging him to stay positive during a difficult and challenging time.

“Hearing about the restaurant is what is keeping his spirits high, though he desperately wishes he was there,” Giuseppe said.